Written by Nazish Taban Yazin
Reviewed by Emily Ross
The term “superfood” has burst onto the scene, adorning supermarket aisles with lofty promises. However, as these foods often come with a premium price tag, it begs the question: are they truly as remarkable as they claim, or are they just part of a clever marketing gimmick. ?
Defining Superfoods: In reality, “superfood” is primarily a marketing term invented to influence food trends and boost sales. It’s essential to recognize that superfoods aren’t a distinct food group; there is no scientific or research-based definition for the term. Instead, they are often described as foods rich in compounds like antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids, believed to be beneficial for health (2)
Do Superfoods Truly Exist? Beneath the marketing buzz, it’s crucial to acknowledge that there are everyday, readily available foods in our diets that are equally deserving of the “super” title. Here are some examples (1):
1. Non-Starchy Vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables not only provide an array of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals but are also low in calories.
These include Artichokes, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, green beans, radishes, squash, tomatoes and turnips and even leafy greens like kale, spinach and lettuce.
2. Berries: Berries are a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrient antioxidants such as anthocyanidins (a group of deep red, purple and blue pigments found in plants) .
An increasing number of studies have shown that anthocyanin-rich foods may provide a range of health benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease, lowered blood pressure and improvement of immune health .
Some of the most common berries include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and cranberries. They can be enjoyed as part of your breakfast routine, on a salad, or even as a mid-day snack!
3. Citrus Fruits:
Oranges, lemons, tangerines, limes and grapefruit — are excellent sources of immune-boosting vitamin C, and fibre and are packed with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that strengthen the immune system .
The Unknown Dynamic Duo
Foods rich in vitamin C have been shown to enhance iron absorption as it captures non-heme iron and stores it in a form that your body can absorb more easily .
Hence, drinking citrus juice or eating other foods rich in vitamin C while you’re eating high-iron foods (including dark leafy greens) can increase your body’s iron absorption.
Legumes are a class of plant foods made up of beans, lentils, peas and alfalfa. They earn the superfood label because they’re loaded with nutrients such as B vitamins, various minerals, protein and fibre . This is especially important for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet as these are alternative sources of animal protein.
5. Raw Nuts and Seeds:
Nuts and seeds are rich in fibre, vegetarian protein and heart-healthy fats (unsaturated fats), and research indicates that eating raw nuts and seeds can protect against heart disease .
Common nuts and seeds include:
Almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts and peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds.
Check out our heart disease diet blog for more information on heart health.
The Reality About Superfoods: While superfoods can be nutritious, it’s important to recognize that the term serves marketing purposes more than it provides sound nutritional recommendations. Overemphasizing superfoods may lead individuals to fixate on a limited set of foods while overlooking equally nutritious options that don’t receive the same hype.
For a well-rounded diet, include a variety of foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and diverse protein sources. The key is to obtain a broad spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals.
Remember, focusing solely on superfoods doesn’t guarantee a “healthy” diet!
- Ohio State University – What Makes a Superfood So Super?
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Superfoods
- Cleveland Clinic – Anthocyanins
- PubMed Central – Anthocyanins and Their Role in Cancer Prevention
- Healthline – Enhancing Iron Absorption
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Types of Fat